Science & Tech

'Free speech absolutist' Elon Musk reverses journalist suspensions in latest ‘self-own’

'Free speech absolutist' Elon Musk reverses journalist suspensions in latest ‘self-own’
Elon Musk clashes with journalists in Twitter Spaces before disabling audio service

Everything’s getting a bit stressful for tech billionaire Elon Musk.

He recently lost the title of world’s richest person, appeared to temporarily shut down Twitter’s audio feature Spaces after a journalist dared to ask him a question, banned rival platform Mastodon’s Twitter account and suspended a load of journalists’ profiles.

Yay, free speech absolutism!

A lot of this comes after Musk updated Twitter’s private information and media policy to state users cannot “publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorisation or permission” or “share private media, such as images or videos or private individuals, without their consent”.

Although, private individuals may be photographed or videoed for a “newsworthy event” or to “further public discourse” on a topic, and in those instances, the media may stay up on Twitter.

Yet it’s one specific bullet point further down in the policy webpage which has got people talking, and it’s around the sharing of “live location information” without the owner’s permission.

“[This includes] information shared on Twitter directly or links to third-party URL(s) of travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available,” it reads.

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It’s prompted some Twitter users to joke that the beloved Santa tracker Norad could get suspended under the policy.

Musk has become increasingly security conscious in recent days, after he claimed a car containing his two-year-old son X Æ A-Xii (or “X” for ease) was followed by a “crazy stalker”.

Earlier this week, Twitter also banned the account @ElonJet, which used publicly available flight data to track Musk’s use of his private jet.

This is despite the businessman tweeting last month that his “commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk”.

A similar contradiction, pointed out by Mashable reporter Matt Binder, is that Musk and his pool of trusted journalists decried the platform’s limitation of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden, only for Musk’s Twitter to limit links to Mastodon – seemingly because @ElonJet can now be found on there instead.

Yay, free speech absolutism!

It escalated further when a number of journalists reporting on Musk (and his continued warping of Twitter to suit his preferences) had their accounts suspended. These included Binder, political video tweeter Aaron Rupar, Washington Post journalist Drew Harwell, CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan and the New York Times’ Ryan Mac.

Then, on Friday, a Twitter Space was hosted by BuzzFeed journalist Katie Notopoulos to discuss all of this, during which suspended journalist Harwell was able to challenge Musk on the suspensions – pointing out the same contradiction noted by Binder - thanks to a bug in the feature.

In a short response before leaving the Twitter Space completely, Musk replied: “You doxx, you get suspended, end of story, that’s it.”

Twitter Spaces then went offline for a short period before being restored. How convenient.

At which point, Notopolous revealed she had received a specific ban from hosting a Twitter Space due to a “Twitter rules violation”.

Yay, free speech absolutism!

The same day, Musk had launched another Twitter poll to determine the direction of the platform – the technique which saw a 52/48 split in favour of restoring ex-president Donald Trump’s Twitter account after it was banned post-January 6.

The vote to “unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time” (they didn’t) ended with the majority voting to restore the profiles “now”, so Musk did, claiming “the people have spoken”.

“The people” also criticised the whole debacle and Musk’s handling of it, too.

“’Accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now’ is such a self-pitying, sadsack way of putting it,” wrote one.

Another commented: “Having accounts on the whim of the tyrant is not exactly freedom.”

“Truly one of the most impressive and public self-owns that I have ever seen,” replied a third.

All of this is, of course, doing wonders for Musk’s ongoing pursuit of “free speech” on the platform…

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